Countdown to 2015–16: Romello Walker is a wordsmith, as well as a big reason Binghamton basketball is on the rise
“As freshmen, we couldn’t have cars — I don’t have a car this year, either — so every time you walk through campus, it’s like taking an ice bath. Just freezing,” Romello Walker says over the phone on a Thursday afternoon.
This is perhaps the perfect introduction to Walker, an ebullient sophomore at Binghamton whose skills of description might just match his boundless potential on a basketball court. Walker is from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., so you might excuse him for his lack of excitement when deluges tear through Binghamton’s sprawling campus. Should you see him, he’s probably chatting up a storm with someone he doesn’t know.
Last season, Walker helped comprise the youngest team in Division I— five freshmen accounted for 111 of a potential 160 starts for the Bobcats, including this 6–6 (check that, 6–7 after growing an inch this offseason), 195-pound swingman who does a bit of everything.
Walker averaged 8.6 points and 4.6 rebounds, while adding around an assist and a steal per game and playing positions that ranged from the 1 to the 4. Like the rest of the Bearcats, he was at his best near season’s end, when Binghamton gave heavy favorite Stony Brook all it could handle in a gritty 62–57 defeat in the America East tournament quarterfinals.
“For me, the big change was the Stony Brook game,” says Walker. “We know what to expect now. We’d improved throughout the season, and then we were ‘that’ close to them. You’re right there, you’re so hungry, and the food is right by your mouth, and you just can’t get it. That motivated everybody else, and we came back and got 10 times better — at everything.”
As Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey told the program’s offical site after that game, “We learned how to fight together. I feel we can compete with anybody in the league right now. I can’t wait to get to the offseason … we’re growing in so many ways and I’m excited. This will be a fun team to watch over the next couple of years.”
Two weeks later, Dempsey was rewarded with a two-year contract extension through the 2018–19 season. Some might look at the 6–26 record and wonder, Why?, but they would be missing the point. Dempsey has poured a foundation that will soon be coming to fruition. In the past two seasons, seven different Binghamton freshman — Walker included — have been named conference player of the week.
That vision had been in Dempsey’s mind when he compiled Walker’s 2014 recruiting class. “When I took over the program, the talent level wasn’t where we needed it, to be competitive,” says Dempsey. “Romello’s class was the one we could build the program around going forward. We knew they’d talented, but they would be playing a lot as freshmen, and it would be a ‘school of hard knocks’ experience for them. The key was to get through the season, and go from there.”
Throughout the struggles, Dempsey stressed staying positive with his players. He knew they were winners — it was one reason why he’d recruited the likes of Walker, from the heralded South Kent School in Connecticut. They also factored perfectly into Dempsey’s preferred tempo-pushing style. Dempsey wants to become the most athletic team in the America East, and says that Walker “checks all those boxes for us.”
These were kids who hadn’t lost before, and Dempsey wanted to make sure they didn’t lose confidence. So, he kept their focus firmly upon what they could be. It’s a pretty spectacular horizon to turn toward. “We played our best in the last month of the season,” says Dempsey. “We’d hung together, and I thought we kept everyone’s head where it needed to be, with that eye on the future. This year is the next step in the progression.”
Momentum has built throughout the offseason. Dempsey spoke with Walker about developing more consistency with his jump shot, and cutting down on his turnovers. Sometimes, there’s just too much creativity brimming. Says Walker, “I’m slowing down, becoming more mentally and physically prepared. I’ve got weight behind all that energy, now. And I grew an inch.”
Five more freshmen join the fold this season, and Bucknell transfer J.C. Show is on the books for ‘16–17, after sitting out this year. Might that be the campaign when Binghamton realizes its potential? Perhaps, but Walker, in perfect testament to his personality, ain’t waiting around.
“I’m ready,” says Walker. “You’ll see me on SportsCenter this season.”